sun 14/07/2024

Amy LaVere, Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Amy LaVere, Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh

Amy LaVere, Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh

Memphis singer-songwriter makes a compelling case for the double bass

Amy LaVere: 'If you hate love songs, you just might like my band'

From Bill Haley’s frantic clock-rocking to Sting’s po-faced plucking, the double bass has written itself a pretty meaty book in the rock‘n‘roll bible. It’s strictly Old Testament, though, far more closely identified with the composers of rock’s creation story than to those tasked with mapping out its future. But hang on. Louisiana-born, Memphis-based singer-songwriter Amy LaVere might just be changing all that.

Wrapping herself around an upright bass certainly makes for a neat (and not wholly unwelcome) visual hook, but LaVere’s music is accomplished enough not to rely on novelty selling points. Her new – third – album, Stranger Me, is packed with truly terrific songs which draw from a whole range of styles and textures. Country noir, dark blues and folk mesh with power pop, abrasive alternative rock and even a courageous Captain Beefheart cover (“Candle Mambo", played last night in a game but only half-successful attempt) to create a rich, sustaining musical broth.

If she’s deeply impressive on record, on stage LaVere was plain compelling. The dextrous thud and thump of her superb bass playing underpinned everything, and her voice was strong, sure and supple, full of character and suggestion. She also benefited enormously from her terrifically versatile three-piece backing band, who filled out her songs using just drums, guitar and fiddle. David Cousar piled on atmosphere with his big, reverbed notes, while violinist Krista Wroten moved from spry country waltzes to a droning sound bed which recalled the Velvet Underground at their most abrasive. They could sing, too: on “Stranger Me” they came together with LaVere in wonderful overlapping three-part harmony.

And all the while LaVere slapped, stroked and wrestled with her bass. An occasional actress - she played Wanda Jackson in Walk the Line - she displayed an innate awareness of the image she was projecting at any given moment, but it seemed instinctive rather than contrived. Her between-song banter may have been a little cutesy for some tastes (OK, my tastes) but there was nothing sweet about her songs. “One of my little jokes,” she announced, “is that if you hate love songs you just might like my band.”

She wasn’t lying. Of all the many songs that proved her point, from looming murder ballad “Red Banks” to the perky, fuck-‘em-all stomp of “Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em“, it was left to the stunning “Damn Love Song” to steal the show, a relentless storm of vicious kiss-off sentiments that worked its way up into quite a frenzy. A torch song cover of Tom Waits’s woozy and haunted "Green Grass” seemed appropriate; a Waitsian crunch and dark-hued romance ran through much of the music. LaVere and her band conjured up the sound of damp, swampy Southern nights; coming storms; long, lonely drives through the early hours; “Pointless Drinking” (the title of her wry country weepy), and seemingly endless permutations of heartache. The truly lovelorn “Cry My Eyes Out” sounded like it had fallen off the end of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Miss America album. Praise scarcely comes any higher.

But for all the tears, this final night of a brief UK tour had a pleasing end-of-term atmosphere, a sense of the script being torn up in favour of, as LaVere put it, “going rogue”. She invited a friend from the audience to play “trumpet” - without a trumpet, as it turned out; quite a feat - on a rollicking version of The Byrds’ “Mr Spaceman”. Later, seemingly on the spur of the moment, they all perched on the edge of the stage and performed the gently wracked “Often Happens“ unamplified to the sound of a room holding its breath. Towards the end, having polished off a bottle of wine, the band started passing round the Jack Daniels. LaVere took the biggest swig. You couldn't say she didn't deserve it.

Watch Amy LaVere perform “Damn Love Song”


LaVere conjured up the sound of damp Southern nights, coming storms, long, lonely drives through the early hours and seemingly endless permutations of heartache


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters